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Sunday morning is a tricky test for the cricket watcher and I’m afraid that, confronted with the glaring South African sun this Sabbath past, I flunked it. You see, I’d had rather a heavy week, cricket-wise, and was suffering from a bout of post-Ahmedabad fatigue. So with due apologies to the Right Hon Strauss, I excused myself from the televisual revels in Centurion and sloped off for an hour or two’s recuperation at my club. All I required was a plump leather armchair and the sports section of the Times and all would soon be right with the world. Alas, it was not to be.
“It’s a damned disgrace!” spluttered a voice from the armchair opposite. Stirred from my meditative state, I fetched Atherton’s latest piece from atop my weary visage to see Colonel Thrashem-Harde, his cheeks the hue of the West Indies one-day jersey, jabbing a stubby finger at his copy of the Telegraph.
“That’s a little harsh, Colonel,” I suggested, “Yer man Pringle’s doing his best.”
The Colonel regarded me with narrow-eyed suspicion, the same expression, I imagine, that greeted many an unwary tiger emerging from the undergrowth in the jungles of Borneo.
“Ah, there you are, Pugh, thought you’d sneaked off to watch that travesty in South Africa.”
“Certainly not, Colonel, wouldn’t dream of it. Dreadful stuff.”
“Glad to hear it,” he spluttered, “Pyjama cricket, that’s all it is. Disgraceful! Almost as bad as this fellow here,” he growled, stabbing at the paper once more.
“Christopher Martin-Jenkins?” I guessed.
“No, no, no! It’s that blighter Modi at it again,” said the Colonel.
I sighed inwardly. The vice-president of the BCCI was a regular source of torment for some of the older members of the club. I’m sure that since the advent of the IPL, the incidence of apoplexy amongst elderly retired gentlemen in London clubs has increased drastically.
“What has he done now, Colonel?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“I’ll tell you. He’s snatched our pink balls, that’s what he’s done. Damned if we weren’t going to use them at HQ next May.”
“I’m sure there’ll be plenty to go round,” I added, in a spirit of conciliation.
“Don’t be facetious, Pugh! It’s our blessed idea, the first idea we’ve come up with since 1787 and this bounder has stolen it!”
“Oh, I see what you mean,” I replied, scratching my head for a moment. “Well, perhaps you could try a different colour. Sunflower yellow perhaps? Or cerise?”
“Don’t be absurd! I’ve had my staff knocking these things up for weeks. The billiards room is full of the blighters. And of course, if we use them now, it’ll look like we’re copying the Tanzanian Premier League, or whatever they call it. We’ll look second-rate, Pugh, like a bunch of slow-witted amateurs, incapable of an original thought!”
“That Modi has a lot to answer for. If you ask me, it’s Packer all over again! If I were a hundred years younger, Pugh, I’d….”
At that point, unable to hold back the swelling tides of indignance, the Colonel’s habitual splutter bloomed into a phlegmy coughing fit that required the assistance of two of the club stewards and an emergency dose of Chateau Haut-Brion. Fortunately, the ensuing melee enabled me to make a rapid exit, leaving the Colonel blowing angry bubbles into his wine glass and muttering ominously about Rhodesia.
On my way home, I reflected on the Colonel’s predicament. It is hard not to feel sorry for the MCC. They are doing their best. They only dreamed up this pink ball wheeze a couple of years back, and in MCC time, two years is a mere blink of an eye, a flutter of a butterfly’s wings. After all, this club took 212 years to agree to permit women to enter its pavilion during play.
Then, as I drove through the gates of Hughes Hall, a solution presented itself. Why not invite Lord Modi to become an honorary member of the MCC? Once he had a strip of the old egg and bacon around his neck and a drop or two of decent brandy inside him, I’m sure he’d slow down a bit and then the cricket world could return to a more sedate, manageable, MCC kind of pace. And perhaps then a chap might be able to get a bit of shut-eye of a Sunday without being perturbed by belligerent ex-Army officers.
On the way to my study, I did briefly check on the state of play in Centurion, but for some reason the scorecard was showing a thumping England win. Naturally, I assumed that there was some kind of technical fault, paid it no further thought and settled down with a glass of malt and a sheet of my best writing paper.
“Dear Mr Modi…”
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73